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The BBC leaves Bush House. So what?

Sep 02, 2012 Strategy, Sunday Nation

The BBC World Service has left Bush House. So what?

The British broadcaster announced last month that it was leaving its venerable studios at Bush House, to move to the more modern premises across London that house the rest of its news operations. What could be wrong with that?

Nothing. And everything.

What is this ‘Bush House,’ you ask, and why are we devoting column inches to it thousands of miles away?

Bush House is the neoclassical building from which the BBC World Service broadcast its prodigious multi-lingual offerings for more than 70 years. Let me admit a personal attachment: as a child I listened to BBC programmes on a battered old transistor radio for long hours. And I noted that the transmissions came from somewhere mysterious called Bush House.

Many years later, I went off to study in London. And to my delight, my university was located just across the road from Bush House, which is perched on Aldwych, near the Thames. I would walk past it every day, and feel a sense of comfort, and connection with home, on those windswept, bitterly cold days.

Contrary to appearances thus far, I am not waxing nostalgic this Sunday. Bush House has a great lesson for business, if only some of us can learn it.

Let me take you back to my childhood. In those days, for an inquisitive young mind in Kenya, there were limited options. If you wanted to keep abreast of news, you read this newspaper. It had only a page or two of international news. Or you watched a terribly brief, outdated clip on the only TV broadcaster, the Voice of Kenya. There was no internet, and international newspapers were way too expensive.

The BBC World Service was free of charge, comprehensive, and it was very, very good. All you needed was a cheap shortwave radio. I will never forget the many nights spent tweaking the dial to get the best signal, while I tried to follow the monumental news events of the age: the fall of the Shah of Iran; the mysterious machinations of the Cold War; the coming of Reagan and Thatcher. And the broadcasts always mentioned one thing: that they were from Bush House

Here’s the thing: I haven’t thought about Bush House in years, but felt a pang of anguish when I heard it would no longer host the BBC. I have no real need for the BBC World Service these days; the world is very different now, and news bombards you unceasingly at all times from all directions. But I still keep my car radio locked on to the BBC frequency.

If you run a business, pay serious attention to this. This is how you sustain a brand for decades, and even centuries: by creating a deep emotional bond with your customer. As a customer, you’re going to transact with thousands of organizations in your life; most of those will just be economic exchanges – pay some money, get some value in return.

A precious few organizations, however, are going to end up actually MATTERING in your life. Those that fill a need unusually well; that give you something intangible but precious; that give you a product that makes an impact on your feelings, not just your calculator.

That is why this column often refers to intangibles being the real deal in business. Anyone can sell you features and specifications; hardly anyone can sell you a feeling, one that stays with you for all your days.

The BBC World Service mattered to me, and to millions of others. So, by extension, did its location. Ironically, the BBC wasn’t even trying to sell anything. But it’s provided relevance, context and influence for generations. Think about that tomorrow, as you begin a new week. Will you be doing anything that will matter in 2099?

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